Michael Oher assumes his new position of left tackle during… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
A shake-up occurred at the start of the Ravens' first minicamp Friday, when Michael Oher moved to left tackle and Jared Gaither officially moved into football limbo.
Oher, the Ravens' 2009 first-round pick, acknowledged the challenge of shifting from right tackle to Joe Flacco's "Blind Side," which is coincidentally the name of the book and movie based on Oher's life. This sudden change could result in a bigger transition for Gaither, who doesn't know whether he is playing right tackle for the Ravens this season or getting traded to the Buffalo Bills.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh attempted to defuse the latest wrinkle in the team's new-look offense, saying, "It's not a big story to us."
"What we try to do with every unit is put the guys together the best way we can for the best group we can," Harbaugh said. "I wouldn't read too much into it. It's going to be permanent as long as it's the best thing for us."
Last year as a rookie, Oher played 11 games at right tackle but showed his long-term potential when he filled in for an injured Gaither and started five times on the left side. He was tested at left tackle by the likes of the Cincinnati Bengals' Antwan Odom, Minnesota Vikings' Jared Allen and Pittsburgh Steelers' James Harrison.
Many believed that it was only a matter of time before last year's runner-up for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year received his shot at left tackle.
During Friday's practice, Oher looked solid in blocking for Flacco, who threw to his new targets, Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth. While left tackle is Oher's natural position, he said it wasn't a seamless move back.
"It's kind of like telling a basketball player who's right-handed to play left-handed," said Oher, who stands 6 feet 4, 310 pounds.
The switch to right tackle might not be the final move for Gaither, whose work ethic has been questioned since his days at the University of Maryland. A league source said Gaither "could" be traded before the regular season. The Bills, whose current options at left tackle are 2008 seventh-round pick Demetrius Bell and fifth-rounder Ed Wang, have reportedly shown the most interest and might give up a second-round pick in 2011 for Gaither.
If the Ravens trade Gaither, they could promote Oniel Cousins, who took a chunk of the first-team snaps at right tackle Friday, or look at free agents such as Flozell Adams, Tra Thomas or Levi Jones. But trading Gaither is far from a certainty. No Ravens official has ever publicly said the team is looking to part ways with Gaither, and this position change could be another attempt to motivate the 6-9, 340-pound lineman.
At this point, Gaither will just have to wait and see where he lands.
When asked to assess his chances of being with the Ravens when the season begins, Gaither said: "Right now, it's 100 percent. I don't know anything different."
Flipping sides becomes the latest offseason hit for Gaither. It was only two months ago when Harbaugh called him out for not attending the first week of the team's voluntary conditioning program. Gaither promptly reported for the second week.
Then, a few hours before suiting up for practice, Gaither was told by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron of the position switch.
To his credit, Gaither is trying to take the demotion in stride, even though he hasn't played right tackle since his freshman year at Maryland.
"You just have to stay focused and be prepared for anything," he said. "You don't want to stop what you're doing and not work out and be looking forward to if you're getting traded. Then, when you get traded, you won't be as good as you thought you were."
The trade buzz over Gaither started in early March. The Ravens seemingly announced that they would listen to offers by giving Gaither a first-round tender as a restricted free agent instead of the high one (which would require teams to give up picks in the first and third rounds).
But no team called the Ravens about trading for Gaither during the NFL draft two weeks ago, according to general manager Ozzie Newsome.
"We're blessed with two quality starting, first-line offensive tackles that both could play left or right," Harbaugh said. "We're going to put them in there where we think we can be as strong as we possibly can be. To elaborate on that, I'd really rather not. Whatever we do will be the best for our team."
In his most extensive interview with reporters since joining the Ravens in 2007, Gaither gave his support to Oher.
"I know he'll do great," Gaither said. "He has a tremendous upside. He's much more improved and has much more improvement to do. He'll do a phenomenal job at left tackle."
The switch at tackle didn't change anything along the offensive line Friday as far as schemes and execution, center Matt Birk said. This would mark the first time since 2004 that the Ravens would start the same five linemen in consecutive seasons, albeit with a possible position change for Oher and Gaither.
"Both are special guys," Birk said. "Athletically, the sky is the limit for those guys. Obviously, there is a prototype left tackle and both those guys fit that criteria. It's a really nice problem to have two legit prototype left tackles."